VIEW: Torture theology in the devil’s republic —Ahmad Ali Khalid - Friday, March 04, 2011

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The question of religion in Pakistan is too important and too volatile to be left in the hands of semi-literate ‘clerics’ but it is too dangerous for individuals such as Ghamidi and the late Mr Muhammad Farooq Khan (the liberal Islamic intellectual brutally murdered last year) to work alone

It has now become clear that what the Iranian intellectual AbdolKarim Soroush had remarked is becoming a reality. A society which lacks religious intellectuals who can freely and unashamedly be critical in the public sphere and call to task fundamentalists and conservatives will inevitably decline into a form of tribalism with a veneer of religious piety. What has come to be in Pakistan is the full evolution and logical conclusion of the new generation of fundamentalism.

Our minister for religious minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was brutally slaughtered at the altar of a cruel and inhuman fanaticism, which is eating away, consuming the very soul of Islam in Pakistan. The philosophy of the Sufis, scholasticism of the jurists and the intellect of the theologians have crumbled under the weight of a new theology — a theology of torture.

It is the radical religious movements in Pakistan that control the grassroots of religious education, not liberals, moderates or even traditionalists. The scholastic genius of classical Islam has been displaced, destroyed by the onslaught of colonialism, authoritarianism and new dynamics of the nation state, only to be replaced by a crass fundamentalism.

This form of barbaric extremism is no longer confined to acts of random violence, but is spreading, becoming sharper and being actively marshalled and mobilised to drive out liberal and moderate voices from all spheres of public life, from the legal culture to the political culture. That is the frightening thing. Educated and well-spoken individuals are being seduced by the hatred and bigotry of this new insane form of extremism.

We suffer from a crisis of religious and moral authority. We can count Javed Ahmad Ghamidi as the only religious scholar who has taken a different view on the whole tragedy. Slowly but surely, over the years, whether it was in opposition to the Women’s Protection Bill, land reforms or any other piece of progressive legislation, a theology of torture has been instituted in Pakistan.

This theology of torture rules in Pakistan, making life hell for women, minorities and ‘lesser’ Muslims. This theology of torture has been sponsored by the state and indeed been given a clearance by other institutions such as the army. The fact is the extremism that was being fostered for purposes of ‘strategic depth’ is now taking on a life of its own. It is becoming intelligent, ruthless and dynamic. It adapts and widens its influence from the media to the judiciary to the extent of ruling over the religious discourse unchallenged and emboldened.

This ‘Islamic’ republic has turned into an instrument for the devil where ‘men of faith’ carry out hellish deeds and turn ‘God as Lover’ into ‘God as Killer’. The very meaning of ‘faith’ in Pakistan has changed in populist religious discussion from something connected with love and reason to something synonymous with hatred and arrogance. This must change.

First, on a more personal level, we can confront the domestic abuse of women in our own families, and consider the Christians of Pakistan (who are socio-economically marginalised, condemned to a life of servitude) as fellow citizens and human beings. The issue of women and minorities is not far removed from our daily lives. In our own dealings and families, we should take note of how unfairly we treat women and minorities, whether it is humiliating and demeaning the Christian servants kept in Pakistani households across the country or the women abused and tortured by gutless husbands. Countless times we have heard about the abuse of women in torturous marriages or the gross maltreatment of Christian domestic servants. We can make a difference just by treating fellow Pakistanis, be they women (our own daughters, mothers and sisters) or Christians, with dignity and respect. We as a society cannot claim to be innocent of this new and violent radicalism because we have condoned and encouraged the mistreatment of women and minorities. This radicalism and extremism did not emerge overnight — it was simply a logical extension of our own cultural practices.

The question of religion in Pakistan is too important and too volatile to be left in the hands of semi-literate ‘clerics’ but it is too dangerous for individuals such as Ghamidi and the late Mr Muhammad Farooq Khan (the liberal Islamic intellectual brutally murdered last year) to work alone. The state has to step up to support the bravery of intellectuals and politicians.

Professor Bayat in a paper talked about the emergence of a post-Islamism in the Iranian context: “In contemporary Iran, post-Islamism is expressed in the idea of fusion between Islam (as a personalised faith) and individual freedom and choice; and post-Islamism is associated with the values of democracy and aspects of modernity.”

The future discussion should be, in the words of author Ali Eteraz, shifted towards: “Structural and political discussions — for example, about separation of mosque and state, the making of a Muslim Left, the ideas of Muslim secularists, the debate over Islamic liberal democracy and the emergence of a post-Islamist Islam.”

Throughout the 19th century, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan heralded just such a movement with his Aligarh initiative and educational reforms. Sir Syed’s reforms influenced a generation of Muslim intellectuals and helped foster liberal religious thinking. Just such a series of initiatives is needed in modern-day Pakistan today, because it is apparent that the isolated works of religious and political reform need to be institutionalised and bring about structural reform.

But there is hope for those wishing to see an alternative — Islamic liberalism. By combining liberal values and religious thinking, this type of politics will appeal to a broad audience and will bring about consensus in the hopelessly useless and polarised ‘secular vs religious’ debate in many Muslim societies. The best example of this is Rachid Al Ghannouchi and his An-Nahda party. The An-Nahda party maintains a synthesis between progressive politics and liberal interpretations of Islamic law, hence combining democracy with suitably liberal moral foundations.

The hope is that Islamist politics in Pakistan (though unfortunately our religious parties are perhaps the most radical in the whole Muslim world) becomes liberalised or undergoes major reform as is the case in the greater Arab world (due to the recent transformative revolutions) combined with a re-imagined democratic Left, after the consistent wretched failures of the PPP, MQM and other parties.

But for this democracy to work as a buffer against radicalism, serious questions have to be asked of our army and its generals.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be reached at

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